Affordable Employee Recognition Reward Ideas


Organizations with effective employee recognition programs enjoy 31 percent lower turnover than other companies, a 2012 Bersin & Associates study found. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits explains that part of staff development—and how you retain your staff—is by recognizing when someone is doing a good job. They list a number of benefits to your nonprofit organization including a positive work environment and company culture, reinforcement of positive behaviors and increased retention and loyalty. At the end of the day, boosting employee morale raises worker satisfaction, which translates into happier customers and higher revenue.

The Aberdeen Group measures these benefits and shows that 67 percent of best-in-class organizations have formal recognition programs. However, some companies, and especially nonprofits, can’t always afford to express employee appreciation by giving out huge bonuses. This has led many employers to look for creative, affordable ways to reward employees who do a good job. Here are just a few things to think about:

Employee Recognition Budget
At a nonprofit, budgets are tight. However, when companies spend even 1 percent of their payroll budget on recognition programs, 85 percent see a positive effect on employee engagement, states the SHRM/Globoforce study.

Fortunately, this falls within the means of most companies since the average budget for recognition programs is 2 percent of payroll, according to WorldatWork’s 2013 Trends in Employee Recognition survey. And, 46 percent of senior management view this expenditure as an investment, with only 12 percent seeing it as an expense, which reflects a widespread consensus that investing in employee satisfaction is worth it.

Certificates and Plaques
Certificates and plaques were the most common sources of employee recognition, outranking cash 77 to 61 percent, says WorldatWork’s study. Popular reasons for issuing certificates and plaques include recognizing length of service, performance above and beyond the call of duty, peer nomination, specific behaviors, retirement and sales performance.
Custom certificates and plaques can be secured at very limited expense. For instance, Microsoft’s site provides templates for certificates of appreciation that can be customized in PowerPoint. Office supply departments and specialty stores also carry certificates, plaques and other items suitable for employee recognition such as customized gifts.

Another proven, cost-efficient option for employee recognition is gifts. Depending on the recognition recipient and the budget allotted, options can include books, clothing, bath and body goods or consumer electronics items. For instance, a tablet is a practical and fun gift combining work and entertainment value that would be appreciated by most employees.
Forbes suggests other items including gift cards and certificates for stores, restaurants and movie theaters. This option can be used when you’re not sure exactly what the employee would like and you want to give them the flexibility to select their own gift.

Company Logo Merchandise
Giving employees merchandise with your company logo on it is a way to recognize good work and promote your business at the same time. STG Marketing describes a case study where a performance awards program included customized company T-shirts, which boosted a call center’s employee satisfaction rate from 47 percent to 64 percent. They also found that turnover decreased from 53 percent to 20 percent, which saved the company $120,000.

Sea Plan also recognizes the importance of swag for nonprofits. They state that promotional materials are great for board and volunteer recognition, and it can also help educational and outreach goals. They also suggest that swag and other merchandise should match the nonprofit;s mission to help employees feel good about their job and promote the bigger picture. Some merchandise could include T-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, hats, mugs, coolers, pens, tote bags and branded electronic items to show your appreciation and company pride.

Food is another fun way to recognize employees. Throwing a pizza party in the office, honoring an award recipient with lunch or dinner or buying donuts or bagels for a high-performing department are a few simple ways to recognize good work. HRCouncil states that food is important. They suggest having muffins or cookies at staff meetings or rewarding achievements for an individual or the team with a box of candy or an ice cream Monday. Also, they emphasize keeping rewards spontaneous.
You can even take food rewards out of the office. For instance, Mark Turpin of HT Group describes one recognition program where entrepreneurs used an app called NOOM (Next One’s On Me) to reward peers with treats, beer and bar and grill food.

If you treat employees with food, you might also want to consider offering a wellness program to help them work off those extra calories. Under the Affordable Health Care Act, a wellness program may not only benefit your employees, but it also can reward your company in the form of incentives. Health Advocate provides a checklist to guide you in implementing an effective workplace wellness program.


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Founded in 1994 by the late Pamela Hulse Andrews, Cascade Business News (CBN) became Central Oregon’s premier business publication. •

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